China Welcomes U.S.-Russia Deal on Syria Weapons, Fabius Describes it 'Significant Step'

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China's foreign minister on Sunday welcomed the deal between the United States and Russia to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, which headed off the prospect of U.S. strikes against Bashar Assad's regime.

"The Chinese side welcomes the framework agreement between the U.S. and Russia. This agreement will enable tensions in Syria to be eased," Wang Yi said at a meeting with his visiting French counterpart Laurent Fabius.

It was the first official reaction by China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, to the deal reached in Geneva on Saturday after three days of talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Sergei Lavrov.

Fabius, who arrived in Beijing Sunday morning and was due to head back to Paris later the same day, called the pact "a significant step forward" and said "important decisions need to be taken on Syria.”

"Only a few days ago, Syria was denying having chemical weapons and having used them. From now on we are in a new phase," he said.

Later he told reporters that while the plan was an important advance, it was "only a first stage.”

The Geneva deal would form the basis of a United Nations resolution to be agreed within a week, he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to issue a report on the incident Monday and Fabius said: "No-one will understand if there were no consequences following a damning report. It will be necessary to react and take action."

The U.S.-Russian agreement is intended to bring Syria's chemical weapons under international control by the middle of next year and leaves the door open to sanctions if Damascus fails to comply, but does not specify what they would be.

Assad now has a week to hand over details of his regime's stockpile and Kerry said he must provide "immediate and unfettered" access to chemical weapons inspectors.

France has been one of Washington's closest allies in urging military action in response to an August 21 chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus blamed by Washington and others on the Syrian government.

The US says more than 1,400 people were killed, while the Syrian government denies responsibility and has blamed rebel forces for the incident.

More than 110,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the two-and-a-half year conflict, and rebel representatives have rejected the U.S.-Russian deal, fearing it eliminates any chance of Western military intervention on their side.

Over the course of the conflict China has consistently joined with Russia, a fellow U.N. Security Council veto-holder, to block resolutions supported by Washington and its allies.

Beijing routinely says it opposes interference in other countries' internal affairs.

It regularly calls for a "political solution" to the Syrian crisis, and Wang said Sunday: "This framework agreement opens the way to solve the question in Syria by peaceful means."

The meeting between Wang and Fabius was part of a diplomatic flurry following the U.S.-Russian deal.

Kerry was to fly to Israel Sunday to brief Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the agreement, and on Monday Fabius is due to host Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Paris.

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